A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 418 – An Inconvenient Truth

An Inconvenient Truth – April 22nd, 2011

I have avoided this movie since it first came out. I have avoided it very intentionally and as much as I possibly could. This is because I knew it would put me in a state of mind that I cannot really afford to be in. Much like politics, I find the environment to be an issue that makes me angry and depressed and filled with such overwhelming feelings of both dread and impotence. That’s not a good state to be in. I find it much more manageable on a small scale. Do what I can and focus on that. The big picture is overwhelming and out of my control and I can’t deal with that and keep myself emotionally stable.

Part of the problem is that I grew up with parents who are, by their natures, scientifically curious. My father started out as a chemist before he shifted to medicine. My mother was told that women couldn’t be scientists and her options were secretary, nurse or teacher. She went with teacher and taught science for over twenty years. They were talking about climate issues and the environment as early as I can remember. I vividly recall being the only one in my Girl Scout troop to attend a conservation fair we’d all planned on going to in order to earn a badge. I went because my parents both wanted to go. I took classes in environmental science. I did a summer program out on the ocean where we took samples and counted pieces of plastic found in the surface water off Cape Cod. I grew up aware of the issues Al Gore has been lecturing about. Really quite aware of them. So when I hear these things presented I’m usually struck by how little has changed in the years since my childhood and now.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. A lot has changed. Ozone hole? Yeah, we’re working on that. But um. Everything else? Not so positive a change. The graphs and charts and pictures Gore uses in his slide show, which is the bulk of the documentary, are fairly damning. The whole point of his lecture and slide show are to show people just how dire the situation is. The point here is to try and counteract much of the media coverage that says that science is unclear on global warming when in fact no, it’s not. Al Gore wants to make the message that global warming is happening and it’s dangerous and it’s not going away unless things change the dominant message and I’ll be honest, this documentary and the books associated with it have definitely made an impact. Gore is a well known guy, and having him turn from the sort of political career where you run for office towards an environmental activism-based political career is something I applaud. If things are going to change on a political level, which I think they need to, then there need to be people like Gore who can get politicians listening.

Unfortunately (in some ways), I’m not a politician. So when Gore trots out his photos of glaciers now and then? I can’t act on that in a significant way. It just makes me feel sick to my stomach. When he talks about US emissions standards and the US auto industry and Kyoto? I can’t act on those either. Not in a big way. And the small ways feel like very small drops in a very large bucket. I didn’t feel educated by this documentary. I just felt like I was hearing the same things I’d been hearing my whole life. Just said by someone who can command more attention than the people I’d heard it all from before. Gore makes a good spokesman for climate issues. I didn’t need a spokesman.

I did find it interesting that there were segments of personal interest in the documentary. The film will cut away from the lecture Gore is giving to a room full of polite and probably like-minded folks and let Gore talk about his life for a bit. And I think this ties into the spokesman bit. These segments, where he talks about losing his mother to lung cancer and how his son almost died? His childhood and the area he grew up in? These are here to humanize Gore. This is a man who ran for president of the United States. He’s a big figure. So let’s bring him back down to the ground for a bit and show how he’s a regular person like everyone else. He’s lost family and had hard times and through the personal segments we hear how those things have colored how he views the world. I’ll buy that. It’s an attempt to make the audience feel like there must be moments in their own lives that they can compare Gore’s to. So that when he starts in on his conclusion, telling us all that he believes we’re capable of hope and change and fixing things, we’re all supposed to think “If he believes it and can do it, so can I!” Unfortunately, I have trouble with that.

Part of the problem I have is in how Gore presents his hopeful argument. The things Gore likens the environmental struggle to are things like women’s suffrage and slavery and segregation and the Berlin Wall. And I take issue with the wording he uses there. He claims that the American public said “Of course women should get the vote!” No. That’s not really how it happened. Politicians didn’t see one march or parade and go “Oh of course!” It was a nasty and bloody struggle, and I can speak about it because I’ve studied it in depth. We’re talking about a fight that took years and involved things like an effigy of the president being burned outside the White House. We’re talking women being beaten by police in the streets just for marching peacefully. And that’s not even touching on slavery or Berlin. These were not lightbulb over the head moments. These were not things that the American people were made aware of and instantly decided to fix. These were long and drawn out fights. It is such a misrepresentation it made me scream at the television “NO!” I couldn’t hold it in. It will not be easy, just as his comparisons were not easy.

As a science fiction fan I spend much of my time letting my imagination explore possible futures. Some of those futures are post-apocalyptic. Plagues, bombs, meteors, alien invasion, what have you. And in those cases the population of the Earth is often severely lessened, as is the level of technology and industry. Things might eventually get better, but it took an apocalyptic event to bring that about. There’s a very concrete sense of starting from scratch. And I like post-apocalyptic fiction, but then I like things like Star Trek too. If pressed, I’d have to say I prefer things like Star Trek. Where we figured it all out and somehow got our shit together and fixed things before we broke them so bad we couldn’t go back. And I like them because they represent the future I would love to have. The future I wish I could believe in. And I can’t. I just can’t bring myself to believe that the people with the power to change the big things will do so and will do so in a timely enough fashion. It is thoroughly depressing.

April 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 1 Comment

An Inconvenient Truth

April 22, 2011

An Inconvenient Truth

Happy Earth Day fellow Earthians. This year we decided to watch a decidedly Earth-friendly movie that we had been postponing because it’s frankly a kind of heavy movie about issues we have little influence over. I’ve watched it before (it was of those movies I watched over the course of several lunch breaks at Blockbuster when it first came out) but Amanda has never had the heart to watch it because she knew just how depressing it would be.

This is, of course, the first ever Oscar winning Powerpoint presentation. (Okay, technically not Powerpoint – he uses Apple’s Keynote and not Microsoft’s Powerpoint.) Environmentalist, entrepreneur, and politician Al Gore (better known for his many guest appearances on Futurama) makes the case here that human society is destroying the planet we inhabit. That if we continue to live as we have been living the place we inhabit will become inimical to human life.

There’s really not much movie here to review. We see Al showing his very well produced slide show interspersed with more personal introspection on his own personal journey. He talks about his family, growing up on a farm, nearly losing his son, and his political career. It’s a sort of strange juxtaposition of cerebral thought provoking lecture and humanising autobiography. It seems odd that in the midst of this heartfelt plea to save the very Earth itself Al takes the time to try and talk about his own personal experiences. I think it must be because Al himself is a strange juxtaposition of politician and activist. He still has that desire for public acceptance and validation that must necessarily be part of any politician’s personality and it’s mixed with his role as a serious minded environmentalist with a mission.

When I watch this movie it’s not for Al Gore though. It’s for his message. I consider myself an environmentalist. I consider myself in touch with the planet, for all that I have sequestered myself indoors for most of my adult life and spend more time in video games than in the woods. I still believe that as stuarts of the planet we have a responsibility to keep it green. Not so much for future generations, since I don’t particularly intend to spawn any, but out of a simple love for the planet and out of fond memories of hiking in the Sierra mountains in my youth.

On the other hand there’s a fatalist side of me that says we have passed the point of no return and that massive environmental change is inevitable at this point. I still make a concerted effort to be green and conserve where I can, but it sometimes seems to me that the powers that be care more about lining their pockets than about saving the hundreds of thousands of lives that will be imperiled by the environmental changes that are already well under way. I don’t think that any sane person will be able to deny that global warming is a simple fact of life in the coming decades. Already summers are becoming more and more excruciatingly hot. There’s more moisture in the warm air which has resulted in ridiculous amounts of snowfall in the northeast part of the US where we live this last winter. How long is it before the surface of the planet becomes so inhospitable to human life that we all retreat indoors or underground? It’s like living in a very slow moving disaster movie.

My immediate reaction on first seeing this movie was to replace all the lightbulbs in our apartment, over the course of a couple months, with compact fluorescents. We use reusable bags when we shop for groceries. I have begun to buy LED lightbulbs as well – expensive as they are – because they use one hundredth of the power of old incandescent bulbs. I’d say that by volume about two thirds of our garbage is separated to be recycled. I have promised myself that my next car will be either a hybrid or an all electric car. I will eagerly pay more for electricity generated by the Cape Wind project if it ever gets constructed. My dearest wish is to live off the grid in a self sufficient manner, generating my own electricity from solar and wind power – though that’s pretty much a daydream and not a realistic goal.

So, yes, I do believe that we as humans are having an impact on the planet. I’m not convinced that there’s anything that can be done to stop it, but I’m willing to try. If only more people felt as I do, but it seems that they do not.

This movie is five years old now. I’d be curious to see what updates Al has made to his presentation in that time. I wonder if he plans to make a sequel? Inconvenient Truth II: Truthier Electric Boogaloo.

April 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , | 1 Comment